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Rogue One was a cinematic triumph, proving that there's more to Star Wars than just the Skywalker saga. Amusingly enough, though, there's one mystery that seems to have fascinated fans: How did the film originally end? The trailers include countless scenes that hint at a very different third act, from the stars running down the beach of Scarif with the Death Star plans, to an iconic moment when Jyn faces a TIE fighter on the tower. As powerful as the film's ending may have been, fans are understandably curious: how did the film almost end?
Since Rogue One's release, we've been getting slow drips of information about that original ending. Now, in the run-up to the film's Blu-ray/DVD release, screenwriter Gary Whitta and director #GarethEdwards have finally filled in the blanks. So here we go - it's time to learn just how different an ending Rogue One could have had...
Let's start by spinning back to the very first drafts of the film, where - surprisingly - the team survived. Screenwriter #GaryWhitta explained that they originally didn't think Disney would be happy with killing all the cast off (in fact, Felicity Jones's contract even included the option of sequels). That said, even at this early a stage the crew all felt this should go in a very different direction. As Whitta put it:
"It’s worth it. If you’re going to give your life for anything, give your life for this, to destroy a weapon that going to kill you all anyway. That’s what we always wanted to do. But we never explored it because we were afraid that Disney might not let us do it, that Disney might think it’s too dark for a Star Wars movie or for their brand."
So the first scripts allowed the heroes to escape. Now, it's worth remembering that you're talking a very early draft here; this was before Jyn became a street urchin, back when she was envisioned as a sergeant in the Rebel Alliance. She was in charge of a very different team; Cassian had a different name, and Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze hadn't even been thought of. Still, at that early stage we had a handful of survivors.
The original plot didn't feature a transmission tower at all. Instead, a Rebel ship would rescue the team on the ground, and they'd fly to a rendezvous with the Tantive IV. That's when Darth Vader would press in with his Star Destroyer, with Leia escaping with the plans - and Jyn's ship destroyed. Still, even as the Star Destroyer pursued the Tantive IV into hyperspace, the camera would pan in - on escape pods.
Frustrated with the script, though, the Rogue One team approached #Disney. As Whitta explained:
"The fact that we had to jump through so many hoops to keep them alive was the writing gods telling us that if they were meant to live it wouldn’t be this difficult."
To everybody's relief, Lucasfilm signed off on a dramatic change: everybody would die.
A Radical Change in Geography
But these changes were long before filming began, and don't explain the #RogueOne reshoots. By the time the film was in production, Jyn's fate was sealed, but the movie still needed some significant tweaks.
In the original version of the film, the Death Star plans were kept in a separate building to the transmission tower. That meant the mission was even more complex; Jyn and Cassian had to break into the first building, retrieve the plans, and then run along the beach to the main building. They then had to steal their way into another Imperial complex, and transmit the plans.
The problem was, this led to an overly lengthy third act. Gareth Edwards explained to SlashFilm:
"In cutting the film, it just felt too long. We had to find ways to compress the third act, which was quite long as it was. And one real, fast, brutal solution was to put the tower in the base, so they don’t have to run across the beach and do all of that stuff to get there. That became a decision that eliminated the shots you see in the trailer of the back of Cassian and Jyn and the AT-ATs. That was some of the reinvention that happened. It was all to do with compression."
He's right. It's very easy for a film to outstay its welcome, and - given the repetitiveness of breaking into not one but two Imperial installations - that would be a real risk with the original version. Sadly, it seems that we'll never see this alternate ending; it was unfinished, and never got far into post-production. Even basic visual effects were never added, leaving Edwards in particular clearly unhappy with sharing this unfinished version.
So there you have it; the mysteries of Rogue One have finally been revealed. Ever since the film aired, fans have been conflating the 'survivors' arc with the reshoots; but according to the crew, that was just a very early script. By the time we got to filming, Jyn's fate was already sealed. The reshoots were a matter of tightening up the third act, compressing it in order to make it more effective. Personally, I think the Rogue One team made the right call.